Pectin powder is a gelling agent that can be used to stabilize a range of food products including sauces and even yogurt; however, its main use is in jams and jellies. Pectin is what gives jams and jellies their texture, and is often what makes the difference between a fruit jam and a fruit syrup. Pectin powder is not always easy to find. And when you can find it, there are several reasons that you may want to avoid it. Those reasons include cost (pectin powder can be expensive) and the fact that some people have allergies or dislike the flavor. Try one of these pectin powder substitutes if you’re in need for an alternative.
Your best bet: Use natural pectin from fruit
Pectin powder is convenient since as a powder, it is easier to store and to use when compared to liquids and other sources of pectin. There are ways to find and use pectin that may not be quite as convenient as pectin powder, but that will provide you with the same effect. Long before the invention of pectin powder, housewives used fruit as the source of pectin when they needed a gelling agent for jams and jellies. Fruits that are rich in pectin include quinces, peaches, and citrus. One way to get the gelling effect is to add any of these fruits to the fruit that you are using to make your jam. Lemon wedges are often added because of the pectin in the peel.
You can also use citrus pith to make your own pectin by boiling the piths (the peels without the zest) from approximately 8 oranges in 2 cups of water with a little added lemon juice. You can also make pectin with apples by boiling 7-8 apples in 4 cups of water. In both cases, you will remove the fruit and reduce and strain the liquid to get a high concentration of liquid pectin.
In some cases, you may not need a fruit with high pectin to get the gelling effect. Peaches and apricots contain enough pectin on their own to provide the gelling effect in jams.
A decent second choice: Agar agar powder
In the same way that pectin powder comes from the natural soluble fiber in fruit peel, agar agar powder comes from the natural soluble fiber in a variety of seaweed. Both have the same thickening abilities. Agar agar powder has the benefit of not needing as much sugar for you to get its gelling effect. Important differences to remember in the final product include the fact that a jelly made with agar agar powder will have a higher melting point than one made with pectin powder and can give the jam a different mouthfeel. Also, you should note that agar agar powder will set up much faster than pectin once it is dissolved.
In a pinch: Gelatin
Gelatin will provide a solidifying effect similar to that provided by pectin, despite the fact that it has a different source. Pectin is a vegetarian product, while gelatin is an animal product. While the two products can have similar effects, their similarities are limited. The first thing to note will be the differences in textures. Gelatin’s texture will give you a final product that is jelly rather than a true jam. The other fact that you will need to consider is that gelatin melts at room temperature, so you will have to keep your preserves refrigerated if you want to ensure that they remain in solid form.
Thickening jams and jellies can be as simple as adding a little lemon juice, even if the fruits being used are relatively low in pectin. What pectin there is will be activated by the acidity. Even fruits with high pectin concentrations can benefit from the addition of an acid as this helps the pectin to be more effective as a gelling agent.